Improbable research at AAAS in Washington Saturday night

February 8th, 2016

You (yes, you!) are invited to join us at the Improbable Research session this Saturday night in Washington DC. It’s part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting.

Where/When:  Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert St NW, in the Diplomat Ballroom / Saturday, February 13, 2016, 8:00-10:00 pm.

This is the 21st (or maybe 22nd) consecutive year we’re doing a special public session at the meeting. This year, you will meet:

This special evening session is open free to the public. The session always overflows the room, so we suggest you arrive a bit early.

PREPARATION TIP: You may not be familiar with cat videos. Here, for your edification, is a cat video:


mini-AIR February issue: Snakes on/in/off planes

February 8th, 2016

The February issue of mini-AIR (our monthly e-mail newsletter just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magazine). Topics include:

  • Snakes in the Plane
  • Snakes-on-an-Inclined-Plane Limerick Contest
  • Mouse Without Shakes, On and Off a Plane
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

Want to have mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just add yourself to the mini-AIR list.

“Can’t imagine why more people don’t study…”

February 8th, 2016

Professor Stephanie Carvin remarks (on Twitter): “Can’t imagine why more people don’t study Public Poli…..Zzzzzzzz“.

Professor Carvin said this upon reading the abstract to the study “Understanding and influencing the policy process,” by Christopher M. Weible , Tanya Heikkila, Peter deLeon, and Paul A. Sabatier, published in the March 2012 issue (volume 45, number 1) of the journal Public Policy. The abstract says:

This essay translates some of the underlying logic of existing research of policy processes into a set of strategies for shaping policy agendas and influencing policy development and change. The argument builds from a synthesized model of the individual and a simplified depiction of the political system. Three overarching strategies are introduced that operate at the policy subsystem level: developing deep knowledge; building networks; and participating for extended periods of time. The essay then considers how a democratic ethic can inform these strategies. Ultimately, the success or failure of influencing the policy process is a matter of odds, but these odds could be changed favorably if individuals employ the three strategies consistently over time. The conclusion contextualizes the arguments and interprets the strategies offered as a meta-theoretical argument of political influence.

The full article is 21 pages long.

BONUS: We have found, by experiment, that this abstract becomes even more interesting if you read it aloud with several friends, each of you reading alternate individual words.

Banana shape(s) – the math(s)

February 8th, 2016

Have you ever mused upon the question: ‘Is the cross section of a banana an ellipsoid, and if so, can it be used to gauge its volume and surface area? Yes? Then a report in the International Journal of Agricultural Science, Research and Technology (IJASRT) 2011 Vol. 1 No. 1 pp. 1-5, may be of interest.

“Among fruits and vegetables, banana fruit has exclusive physical properties that make it different from other fruits and vegetables such as shape and curvature. Also banana is one of fruits that need to extract its physical properties as a result of its importance.”

– explain investigators Soltani, M., Alimardani, R. and Omid, M.
of the Department of Agricultural Machinery, Faculty of Agricultural Engineering and Technology, University of Tehran, in their paper: ‘Some physical properties of full-ripe banana fruit (Cavendish variety)’. This illustration shows cross sections of bananas, and some of the relevant mathematical calculations.


And so, in answer to the question posed above:

“By ellipsoidal estimation the volume, surface and projected areas is calculated easily and reliably.”

Note: Musa cavendishii has featured in mainstream news media recently, we ask: ‘Has the imminent death of Cavendish been greatly exaggerated, or not?’

Bonus: Professor Banana is co-author of the paper: ‘A socio-economic analysis of forest foods’

How Fireflies Get It On

February 7th, 2016

Sara Lewis reduced her discoveries about firefly sex to 24 seconds, and then to seven words. She performed this, as a 24/7 Lecture, at the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony:

A year before that, Lewis performed a longer version — about thirteen minutes long — as a TED talk: